Writing a story, building a world – part 5: WHY

Read WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN in previous installments.

Continuing –

Question 5: WHY

The question of motivation has been discussed a lot, to the point of being made fun of. Remember that immortal exchange in ‘Galaxy Quest’:

“You’ve got to figure out what its motivation is, what it wants!”

“It’s a ROCK! It doesn’t want anything!!!”

The basic underlying truth is, though, that things rarely happen in a vacuum and even the most irrational-seeming actions by human beings are rooted in the fact that there must have been a reason for it – even if the reason only SEEMED like a good one at the time, or might have seemed right to a deranged mind when in fact it was utterly insane.

The question of motivation remains – people, and therefore good characters worth their salt, have a reason for doing things. Yes, sometimes, especially in retrospect after something goes disastrously wrong, it’s just “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” But something. For the cart of the story to keep moving forward, it needs the horse of motivation to pull it.

In The Were Chronicles a lot of things turn on the death of Celia – her family collapsing into a black hole of silence and family secrets, the overprotection of Celia’s younger sister Jazz by their shattered parents, her brother Mal’s maelstrom of guilt and regret at what he perceived as his own part in his sister’s death – Celia’s existence, and then the manner of her death and the mystery and all the misconceptions surrounding that, and then her absence from the heart of that broken family – all of that hinges on her, on who she was, on what she was, on what she endured, on what she wanted, on what she risked to get what she wanted.

Her motivations were the cog which turned first, and that wheel turned other wheels, and very soon a complex story was in the making, ticking along like clockwork. It works like that – the things that you do may not be entirely your doing, or your wishes. They depend on something that somebody else might have done, yesterday, or a year ago, or a generation ago. Your motivations – the things you want – have been shaped by everything that made you who you are, and your past, and the people in it, are a huge factor in the shape your future takes.

A powerful enough motivation can put a great deal into motion – and sometimes there are things included here which may not even be readily apparent when you first look at the situation. Sometimes there are tiny little cogs – small, and practically invisible – but placed in a key position, and the most miniscule of turns of these unassuming pieces of machinery work in wholly unexpected ways to turn much bugger wheels and precipitate events in a manner which you might have had very little ability to predict. Oh, keep an eye on the small wheels. It’s they who do the turning…

Motivation, of course, is buried deep inside a person – and this is a moment when Point Of View (or POV) becomes an important choice to make in a story.

A third-person POV gives you, the writer, room to maneuver – it gives you the opportunity to write a broader story – you can look at things from a higher perspective, and show more breadth, because it is not always necessary for any ONE given character to be in a position to be everywhere and know everything. It also means that you often pay for that with the ability to really do close-ups on people’s actual thoughts and feelings, particularly if you’re having an interaction where one character can’t “read the mind” of someone else, and crucial information can get mislaid in the way (which is a good plot device in itself, in its place…)

A first person POV puts you right inside a character’s head, and motivation becomes a much easier thing to follow, and to show – with the problem that there are frequently things in a given story and a given plotline that your first-person-POV character simply cannot know (not having been present at crucial points) or can only learn by convoluted means (like eavesdropping) or being lectured on what is needful by other characters in a manner that can backfire badly.

There is no perfect POV, only the perfect POV for the story being told – and it isn’t infrequent for the story to begin with one POV and then be retold from quite another as the author learns more about – well – the motivations of the character. Because without any doubt your characters need to be moving forward, and you, the writer, need to be able to provide them with a reason why (and it’s got to be a good enough one to convince both the character and the reader of that character’s story).

I chose to tell The Were Chronicles in first person – but every book in the three-book triptych is told from a DIFFERENT first-person POV which colors the story being told differently. I’m using a different set of eyes, a different mind, a different set of ideas… a different comprehension. A different prism, a different light. And in that light a story you thought you knew is suddenly not quite what it seemed…

Find out more about the Were Chronicles here.



About Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander's life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website (www.AlmaAlexander.org), her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlmaAlexander/), on Twitter (https://twitter.com/AlmaAlexander) or at her Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/AlmaAlexander)


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